On a June night in 1996 the entire niche world of professional wrestling changed forever. What a whole generation of children and now young adults had been raised to believe came crashing down and it hurt inside. The beacon of hope, the embodiment of positivity for a whole universe had finally shown his true colors and they were black and white. Us wrestling fans knew things would never be the same, and even less of us knew it would prove to be the end of an entire way of life for the business.
On a November night in 2016, the entire world changed in an instant. The embodiment of affluence, snarkiness, and excess had done what no one thought he could do that covered the political world. The man that had been the joke of the campaign, a sure-fire fizzle out that never exactly went away. The man that everyone knew would be beaten like a drum by Her and we were left wondering what in the hell just happened. We knew, even those that never followed the political game, that life would not be the same again. We had no idea that it would become a trinket on a long, heavy chain of despair and embarrassment that is the history of the United States of America.
So why do I bring these two wholy different things up in one forum? How in the world could Hulk Hogan forming the New World Order on a wrestling pay-per-view 21 years ago have anything to do with the Donald Trump election victory? Surely there’s nothing to learn from pro wrestling, especially when it comes to how we digest what has happened to our country and society. Maybe there is though. Maybe there is too much to learn from it that no one has the gall to begin to look at it because it is that dirty, nasty dish in the sink that you’ve ignored until the stench forces you to take action. After all, Hogan and Trump are two old, white dudes that are so far removed from reality that we’d be better off expecting them to turn the sky grey rather than go buy their own groceries. Two men that are pivotal in their own worlds, idols of what their fans and confidants want to believe is best for the world. Hogan had Ed Leslie, Trump has Kelly Anne Conway. Hogan had Bischoff in his back pocket, the puppet that he used to control the coming and goings of WCW, Trump has big business and the most inept of Republican power to persuade all of us that it is going to be ok and he’ll bring order to the world. Both were and are full of complete shit.
Moreso, there’s the part of Randy Savage. Many of us fans tend to forget exactly who was the victim of Hogan’s wrath that night other than every fan in the building and at home. Savage was the blind follower, sure as shit that Hogan would never do the wrong thing because he KNEW the man. He knew Hogan for over a decade and while they’d had their battles there was an aire of respect there at least on camera. Sometimes however, the most faithful are the ones destroyed first. Some would say that the comparision works best for Hillary Clinton but not too fast. Was she truly the victim on that November Wednesday when the shit hit the fan? Or was she just another one of the accomplices that allowed this world to shift? This is the story of how a wrestling dork from the 90’s found far too much in common with the ordeals and how perhaps we can learn from it all.
I was as die hard for the Bernie Sanders cause as anyone by the summer of 2016. He embodied what I felt was right with America; a self made man from a small state with a modest savings account that had fought wrongs his entire career. He had been the voice of Vermont for several years by the time he threw his hat in the ring for 2016. It wasn’t his first Presidential rodeo, having lost many bids in the past but this time was different. After a hugely disappointing 8 years under Obama, the people wanted more from their government. They wanted affordable ways to better themselves and Sanders spoke to those people so eloquently and clearly. He was the every man and by god, I’m always a sucker for those. Then things began to feel strange. Hillary began to throw her vicious venom his way and things got stronger in his favor while oddly the polls said otherwise. By the late summer, it was clear that a divide in the Democratic Party was real. There were the old, “blue dog” Democrats that were much less progressive who held all the cards in the hierarchy that wanted their woman Hillary in power. Then there were the younger, ground-floor Dems that demanded a Sanders bid. It got ugly and ugly fast as the convention rolled onward. The morning after both angered and shook me forever. After a bizarre convention, it was announced that Hillary Clinton would challenge for the big seat and it felt wrong. Not just because I disagreed with her but because the numbers weren’t there. After weeks of hearing that Sanders was a long shot but online all the credible polls had him ahead he loses in an instant. It felt very 1968 and it felt like a sham. Then Sanders went on the Morning Show to blindly endorse the very woman he had accused of heinous crimes as if it all never happened. I was robbed of the last hope I had for this country as a President and I was angry.
Randy Savage in the summer of 1996 was already a legend. He embodied incredible work in the ring but also appealled to the more casual of fans because of his colorful promos and look. He was a true icon in the sport and about as close to infaliable as you could get. Despite a rocky beginning in WCW, he’d remained relevant as the “Outsiders” invaded WCW in the spring in the form of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. He banded together with the WCW staples Sting and Lex Luger to fight evil for the sake of his new home. Sure, he was a longtime WWF “superstar” but he’d been the hero in the picture since he made his jump in late 1994. As the Bash at the Beach show went on, the question of who would join Nash and Hall was the anchor of it all. Savage almost seemed uninterested and blindly ready for war. That proved to be his downfall. He believed the good nature of his partners and he would conquer all and yet he was stabbed in the back by the man he knew best Hulk Hogan in the worst of ways when he needed him most. The very entity that aided his entrance into WCW both on camera and off had dropped his leg on all the beliefs that he held best. Surely, this would mean vengeance. Instead, by the early part of 1997 things were different. The nWo changed the wrestling world and more eyes than ever were on the entire world of wrestling but especially WCW. Savage had lost luster but remained true to WCW as they embarked on their February card SuperBrawl. It would be WCW Champion Hogan in his new black and white against another old foe, former WWF mega star Roddy Piper. Savage waited in the shadows and watched the events unfold, long enough to put his own dagger in the hearts of many. Rather than remain with his heart, he took the money and ran by assaulting Piper and joining the darkside with the nWo. As a near 8 year old, I was both excited and crushed in a bizarre way. I felt robbed but I also felt an anxiety for the future.
Nearly 20 years later, I had that same feeling at 7 AM in my parents’ home watching a shaking Bernie Sanders concede to the Clinton cause. I watched what I thought was real become a clear illusion and I was tired. I had long been an adult so things like this should have been the norm for me but I really believed in Sanders. For some odd reason, much like I felt about Savage and WCW, I felt a loyalty to him and a belief that if there’s one things true about politics it was that Bernie Sanders was a stand-up guy. That feeling died on that early morning and even now it could never live again. Even after his pledges of loyalty because of his declaration as an Independent, I couldn’t trust him again. He’d promised a lawsuit against the Democrats and what happened to it? He promised us everything and all along he couldn’t deliver. I’m sure I find myself hating him far too much than what he deserves but I don’t know what else to do. He helped Trump win more than anyone because after the Sanders debacle, Hillary wasn’t going to win over the people she needed. He was the Cruela DeVille of America and we all knew it even the ones that wore her stupid pins and t-shirts. It was another Time Warner merger to stab us in the back right before our eyes and yet, we’ve become a society of people that do that sort of thing to ourselves because we fear change. We fear the courage it takes to really make a difference and it shows so brightly in how things have gone since January of this year. Up shit creek without a paddle as they say in my Arkansas. The tumultuous Trump Administration even shocks me. His clear and unyielding arrogance has us more hated now than even that clown Bush Jr. could dream of dragging us down into. We’re the sardine can of countries and it insults me and any other American that does give a shit and is informed. Educated people that dedicate themselves to betterment and progress not because it is trendy but because it is the right and fair thing to do. We’re the minority in a sea of mouth-breathing bums that somehow found their way into power yet again. Money is everything and it was never more evident than that summer morning.
So what exactly happened with the nWo thing? It ran roughshod over WCW and the wrestling world for years. It brought bigger success to WCW than it had ever known, breaking them into the pop culture lexicon for an entire generation. Massive celebrities yearned to be a part of the show and were, usually to the detriment of the younger and skilled talents on the roster. It was special until it wasn’t. By the end of 1998 it was clear the bloom was off the rose and along with that came a backroom deal that sealed their fate completely. WCW was owned by Turner Broadcasting and had been since 1988 after Jim Crockett Jr. was forced to sell due to financial strain. Turner had long vowed that no matter the loses, WCW would live because he felt he owed the business that due to it being his first successful show on the fledgling TBS Superstation at the dawn of cable back in the late 1970’s. Even through some of the worst years, that rang true and it proved to be a positive for him in the long term after the nWo caught fire. The world had changed by the end of the 1990’s however and the corporate world was volatile. Turner had made the decision to acquire the young online juggernaut AOL to bolster their profits and it proved to be their downfall. In an unprecidented move, AOL themselves were in charge of the merger and because of that WCW suffered. AOL’s executives were now in power and Turner was merely the face of the new AOL-Time Warner corporation. The days of using Teddy’s checkbook on a whim were over and AOL was not very fond of the business. At first things seemed business as usual but by the end of 1999 it was clear to many that things were very wrong. Restraints were thrown on the company all the while money was being thrown in every which way with no rhyme or reason for it. Then the decision was made to bring in Vince Russo, a longtime “writer” for the rival World Wrestling Federation to help with the creative decisions. This, along with the disinterest of AOL towards the product lent a massive hand in the downfall. Russo was given limitations that were ignored or misguided and it wasn’t long until the cards began to fall. Ratings plummeted on their television shows, all of which were obviously Turner channels and that was enough for AOL to deem them a liability. By the end of 2000 it was a shell of a company. Eric Bischoff, the man tha that had led WCW to their largest heights and the brain behind the nWo execution began to scramble to save the company. Rumors came from all abound that Fusient Media would be partners, a group that’s biggest claim to fame was selling their classic sports channel to ESPN and in turn creating ESPN Classic in a multi-million dollar deal. They were very interested in taking WCW to new heights, until AOL announced that they were no longer honoring their television deals ultimately deeming WCW dead to rights. Any good business person wouldn’t acquire something with no possible revenue stream like that. House shows were non-existent after years of talents no-showing or last minute booking changes. The earth was scorched and what once was the largest wrestling entity ever known was dead only 5 years after their historic rise.
Things weren’t great but they could have been expounded upon as Barack Obama left his post as President. Student loan policy had improved greatly, the economy was slowly rising, and social issues were largely being addressed. By no means am I a huge fan of Obama but the man at least knew policy. He knew what was plausible and what wasn’t and most importantly he had a strong poker face. As Trump began his term, a feeling of uneasiness was beginning to flood. Democrats refused to even begin working with him even when it was logical to do so. Republicans were beginning to lose faith in him after countless, mindless tweets sent late in the nights. Then the Russian scandal broke. Not long after that came corruption claims within his own cabinet and we’ve been left with a country in flames ever since. What will be of this country I’m unsure. As a teen I had always believed we could never do worse than George W and here I am a decade later realizing it could have been so much worse. We could have had a non-intellectual at the helm with no desire to better anyone or anything aside from his own self-interest. In short, we got a megalomaniac yet again as our president. We got Nixon to the highest power and that was our biggest mistake. Our generation gave ourselves what we deserve after years of silence on key issues. We could have prevented it all, much like WCW should have known they were burning the candle at both ends. Simply, neither of them cared about that. I doubt that they didn’t know they were doomed, they wanted to take the money and run much like these pseudo-activists are now. They’re not protesting just because Trump sucks, they’re doing it for Facebook likes and retweets. They’re doing it so that a decade from now they can look cool to their snot-nosed dork kids when in reality they did fuck all. Us wrestling fans have it rough because we can’t get relief from it all sometimes. It is meant to be an escape but instead it acts as a sad allegory for the real world. Sometimes things are too good to be true and when they are, we should right the wrongs rather than follow along in blind faith. Damn you heroes, all you ever end up doing is turning heel on us.